John Brogden and Sons

John Brogden and Sons

John Brogden and Sons was a firm of Railway Contractors, Iron and Coal Miners and Iron Smelters operating from roughly 1837 to the bankruptcy in 1883. However the business essentially started when John Brogden (1798–1869) moved from his father’s farm near Clitheroe to set up in business in the rapidly expanding Manchester (not yet a city). In 1832 he successfully tendered for a contract with the local authority (the Bororeeve) to undertake the cleansing and watering of Manchester.Higgins (1978), p241] Around this time he obtained a similar contract in London. [Richardson(1870) Vol 1 page 22] In 1843, as a partner of Joseph (later Sir Joseph) Whitworth, he contracted to sweep the streets of Manchester with Whitworth’s patent machines. They undertook a similar contract in Westminster. In 1844 Brogden moved to London because the focus of his interests lay there.

Many Brogden contracts were financed and supported by Samuel Brooks of Cunliffe, Brooks & Co. They became acquainted during early life in North Lancashire and this relationship was renewed in Manchester. [Smiles p225]

First Railway Contracts

When the Manchester and Leeds Railway was being planned, Brogden secured contracts to build the Manchester Viaduct (Number 4) (October 1837) and the Manchester Victoria Station at Hunts Bank (March 1843). [ Marshall (1970) p 40+, Wells J (2000) pp 73-75 and Directors’ Minutes: Manchester and Leeds Railway Co. RAIL 343/3 ] In July 1838 he obtained a contract [Heaton Norris] on the Manchester and Birmingham and in August 1840 two more contracts jointly with Easthed. [Cheadle and Wilmslow] [ Directors’ Minutes: Manchester and Birmingham Railway Co. RAIL 454/1)] In October 1845 he obtained a contract to build the Ashton Branch of the M&B (Heaton Norris to Guide Bridge). [Directors’ Minutes: Manchester and Birmingham Railway Co RAIL 454/3 and the contract 454/11] He obtained contracts with the East Lancashire Railway to build from Stubbins to Accrington in 1845 and Blackburn to Hapton in 1846 (jointly with Smith and Pearce). [Marshall (1970) p111]

In 1846 Brogden became a director of the South Eastern Railway Company and John Brogden junior obtained contracts from that company for the North Kent Railway in November 1846 and February 1847. [Directors’ Minutes South Eastern Railway 1845-1847 RAIL 635/20]

The Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway received its Act of Parliament in 1849. It had two sections: from London Road Station to Knott Mill and the second from there to Altrincham. Brogdens had the contract for the second section. [Wells, p333 ]

Brogden was joined in his business by his four eldest sons: John, Alexander, Henry and James as they reached the age of majority. [Smiles p233] His youngest son, George was never involved as he was too young. [ Higgins 1978, p240]

Work in Cumbria

In the late 1840s the Brogdens became interested in iron ore mining in the Furness area of North Lancashire (now Cumbria). In 1846 John senior became a shareholder of the Furness Railway. They took ore-mining territory at Stainton in the estate of the Earl of Burlington and were developing mines there by December 1850. In 1850 the second largest haematite ore deposit in British history was discovered by Schneider and Co. at Park, on the Duddon shore in Furness. [Marshall (1958) pp 203-4] Mining capacity was growing fast. This ore was sent to market via the Furness Railway and then by ship.

George Stephenson had planned a West Coast main Line to cross the mouth of Morecambe Bay and this would have linked Furness with the developing national rail network. However this plan was shelved in 1843. The Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Act was passed on 6 June1844, establishing this as the route for the main line. Instead of Furness becoming part of the national rail strategy, it was now a backwater. It could only be connected to the main network by local efforts and these would involve crossing Morecambe Bay, with its notorious tidal quicksands. The Furness Railway directors collectively, led by Burlington, were not keen to take responsibility for this risky project although the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway was considering it. [Andrews(1965 and 1966), Marshall(1958) p212]

In 1847, a group led by Brogden and his three eldest sons began to promote a rail link between Ulverston and Carnforth, on the Lancaster–Carlisle line and they eventually obtained the Ulverstone and Lancaster Railway Act (Royal Assent on 24 July 1851). The directors were: John (sen.) John (jun.) Alexander, Henry, James Garstang (Alexander’s father-in-law) and Joseph (later Sir Joseph) Paxton. [Higgins (1978) p242 and Marshall(1958) p214, but Richardson(1870), page 18 has John, John, William Gale and Paxton] The line was planned by McClean and Stileman at convert|19|mi|km in length of which convert|10|mi|km comprised embankments and viaducts across tidal water. Much of this was sand running to a depth of 30 to convert|70|ft|m.

Work on the line was not in full progress until September 1853. McClean and Stileman had resigned as engineers the previous February and were replaced by James Brunlees. [Gooderson] The viaducts over the Kent and Leven were designed and built by W & J Galloway of Manchester. Brunlees had already completed a similar project and went on to achieve great eminence. He worked again with the Galloways on Southport Pier. [Richardson (1870) p19, Brunlees (1855) Marshall (1958) p 214-6 ]

In 1851 Brogdens had been poised to take over the Furness Railway itself and a draft agreement was made between Burlington and John Brogden senior but the F.R. directors refused to ratify it. Thus Burlington’s fellow directors saved him and his family from losing a great prize and prevented the Brogdens from gaining it. [Marshall(1958) p 213] However as the expensive work proceeded Brogdens ran short of money and had to ask the Furness Railway for financial assistance. As the FR legally could not do this, two of their directors [The Earl of Burlington and the Duke of Buccleuch Marshall(1958) p 217] made a loan of £50,000 in their personal capacities. [Richardson(1870) p21]

The line was opened on 26 August 1857. [Richardson(1870) p 21, Marshall (1981) p 217] Gross expenditure was over £410,000. [Richardson(1870) page 23] Brogdens were struggling financially and in 1858 approached the Furness for another loan but declined to accept the stringent conditions demanded. [To sell the U&L to the F.R. at par for 4% Preference Stock - Marshall (1958) p 218] Finally in 1862 Brogdens sold the U&L to the existing Furness Railway [Richardson(1870) page 24] having made little or no direct profit. This railway link however was critical to the later industrial development of Barrow-in-Furness and its locality and mining interests. [J D Marshall (1981), Richardson(1870) Vol 1 p 18] It also caused silt to build up in former tidal areas, creating new agricultural land. Brogdens’ decision to sell this valuable railway, with good growth prospects, suggests that they were short of cash.

Work in South Wales

Another area of expansion was in Mid-Glamorgan in South Wales. The bulk of iron ore mined in Furness had been sent there and the Brogdens became aware that Sir Robert Price, the owner of the Glamorgan Iron and Coal Works at Tondu, was in difficulties. In December 1853 they purchased for £10,000 the leases of the land and mines that he held. In the following January they purchased the works itself for £35,000. In July they acquired the leases of other farms and mines previously held by Sir RobertHiggins 1978, p243] .

Llynfi Valley

These purchases were put under the control of James Brogden who was then at 22 the junior partner. He made good progress. In 1859 he married Helen Dunbar Milne. This marriage was unhappy and was dissolved in 1865. Soon after 1860 the prospects of the Tondu and Maesteg areas improved and in 1863 Brogdens obtained a new lease of the Tywith lands in the Llynfi valley, from which they raised coal and iron in large quantitiesRichards 1982] . In the following year they leased the Garth land, sank the Garth pit and erected coke-ovens, which they worked until the depression in 1877 forced their closure.

Ogmore (Ogwr) Valley

The Brogdens also worked the Ogmore valley, first at the top of the valley but in 1865 they sank the Wyndham pit and opened the Tynewydd level. They worked both of these until 1872 when a new joint stock company was formed. In July 1863 they obtained an Act for the “Ogmore Valley Railway Company” of which Alexander became the chairman. This was a Standard gauge railway from Nantymoel at the head of the valley to a junction with the Llynvi The name was Anglicised from the Welsh spelling “Llynfi” ] Valley Railway (Broad gauge) at Tondu. They also gained power to lay a third rail along the Llynvi Valley line from Tondu to Porthcawl. [Higgins 1978 p244, Barrie 1980 p??? ]


The decision to build standard gauge in a broad gauge area prevented them from sending their coal either to Cardiff (via Stormy) or Blackmill via the Ely Valley Extension Railway. They therefore decided to build a new port at Porthcawl as the old tidal dock was unsatisfactory.

They obtained the cooperation of the Llynfi company and jointly obtained the Llynvi and Ogmore Railways Act in June 1864. This included the new dock, to be run jointly by the two companies. This covered 7 ½ acres, had convert|2300|ft|m|abbr=on. wharfage, four high level loading stages and a daily capacity of 5,000 tons of coal per day. It cost £250,000. In July 1866 the Lynvi and Ogmore companies were amalgamated to make the Llynvi and Ogmore Railway with Alexander Brogden as chairman [Higgins 1978, p244] . When the new dock was opened on 22 July 1867 it was part of this new company. The place of honour went to the Brogden screw steamer SS "John Brogden". Higgins (1964)] By 1868 all lines were dual gauge [Llynvi and Ogmore Railway] so the essential motivation for the dock was no longer present.

It is not entirely clear why they built the Ogmore Valley as a standard gauge railway in a broad gauge area, forcing the decision to build a dock at considerable expense. It may have been unavoidable owing to the Gauge Act of 1846. If so then perhaps it would have been cheaper to build the line as dual gauge from the start instead of building a dock. Perhaps even this was not permissible. The Llynvi Valley Railway was formed in 1861 by reopening pre-1846 lines. This is probably why it was permitted to use broad gauge. What is clear is that Brogdens sold off the Ulverston and Lancaster at about the same time as they started the Ogmore Valley Railway and the sale may have been related to a need to fund the railway and dock.

The trade of the new dock grew rapidly. In 1864 only 17,000 tons of coal passed out of the old outer basin but in 1871 the new inner dock shipped over 165,000 tons. In July 1873 the Great Western Railway took it over from the Llynvi and Ogmore, guaranteeing a dividend of 6%.

At the end of January 1865 James Brogden acquired 32 acres of land adjoining the dock on behalf of the firm. In May 1867 he granted leases on the western side of what was to be the main street, to be called John Street in honour of his father. When Alexander later assumed control he stopped this venture. However when the firm was dissolved, Mrs James Brogden acquired the land and she and her husband established on it the nucleus of modern Porthcawl. [Higgins 1978, p245]

Alexander Takes Charge

When John Brogden senior died in December 1869, Alexander assumed his father’s position as head of the firm and came to Tondu to take control. He chose to reside in the vacant house of the co-respondent in James’s divorce, despite the latter’s protestations and offer to vacate Tondu House. This decision made it difficult to maintain the cordial relationship necessary to manage the business. [Higgins (1978)]

Llynvi, Tondu and Ogmore Coal and Iron Company

In December 1871 the fortunes of the Brogdens began to change when the firm made an agreement with the neighbouring Llynvi Coal and Iron Company Ltd which owned a large integrated ironworks at Maesteg, six miles north of Tondu. As a result of the agreement, the two companies merged to form a new joint stock company, the Llynvi, Tondu and Ogmore Coal and Iron Company which was 'floated' in May 1872. The merger was probably inevitable as, in 1870, the Brogdens were challenged by the Llynvi company in the High Court after the former company had crossed the boundary of the latter in the Coegnant district and mined large quantities of Llynvi coal without permission. The Vice-Chancellor, Sir James Bacon, ruled in favour of the Llynvi Coal and Iron Co. and the Brogdens had to face a very large demand for compensation or an expensive appeal. The merger of the two companies quickly followed. Although the Brogden family were the main shareholders in the new company and Alexander Brogden was the chairman, the family, for the first time, relinquished control over their fortunes as the new company had a large number of 'vocal' shareholders in the Manchester and Southport areas who closely monitored the progress of the new venture. In 1873, during a major strike among the iron company workers in South Wales, Alexander Brogden acted unilaterally and settled amicably with the workforce a month before the strike eventually ended in the rest of the coalfield. By 1874, after a brief period of prosperity, profits slumped as the Tondu and Llynvi works faced competition from cheaper producers abroad and, more importantly, from cheap Bessemer steel. Losses accumulated until the company's debenture holders opted for voluntary liquidation in January 1878. The company would have probably survived the trade depression of the late 1870s were it not for the untimely intervention of one of the old Llynvi company's Debenture Holders, probably George Moffatt, former chairman of the Llynvi Coal and Iron Co Ltd. Moffatt decided to withdraw his large debenture holding in December 1877, a move which would have resulted in bankruptcy proceedings with disastrous consequences for the debenture holders. As a consequence the holders opted for the lesser evil of voluntary liquidation. The merger of 1871-2 proved to be disastrous for the Brogdens as they forfeited effective control over their Welsh enterprises at a time when the south Wales wrought iron trade was about to enter a period of terminal decline. Ref: "The Iron Industry in Maesteg", David Lewis, Swansea 2007.

Metropolitan Railway

Brogdens had other difficulties. It owned the Bwlfa Colliery in the Aberdare Valley and since the beginning of 1870 had supplied coal weekly to the Metropolitan Railway Company at favourable prices. A draft contract had never been completed and Alexander decided to cease deliveries without notice. The Metropolitan held that the draft contract was valid and had been breached. A case was tried at the Surrey Spring Assizes (1873), The Court of Common Pleas and the House of Lords (1877), each of which held for the Metropolitan. [Higgins 1978, p247] This case is an important precedent in the law of contract. [See e.g.: and many other online references]

Work in New Zealand

Towards the end of 1870 the New Zealand Government, dominated by Sir Julius Vogel, the, Colonial Treasurer and soon to be Prime Minister, authorised the colony’s first major railway construction programme. Vogel came to London to negotiate loans and concluded an agreement with Brogdens to construct railways and provide plant to the value of £500,000. He also negotiated a much larger alternative contract, subject to Parliamentary approval, which would give the colony £ 4,000,000 of railways and 10,000 immigrants in return for transferring convert|3000000|acre|km2 of land to the contractors.

James Brogden went out to New Zealand to complete them. He left Liverpool in August 1871 and returned to England early in 1873. The diary [Brogden(1871-3)] that he kept during his journey shows that he was engaged in very difficult and protracted negotiations. In October 1871 the New Zealand Parliament rejected the larger contract but allowed the ministry to negotiate an extension to the smaller one.

The government started their own immigration programme and also made an agreement with Brogdens that Brogdens would dispatch up to 2000 able-bodied men plus wives and children to a maximum of 6,000 adults. For this privilege Brogdens had to pay the government £10 per adult and could take promissory notes from the adult immigrants not exceeding £16 each. Brogdens hoped for great things and, under pressure from the New Zealand government began in April 1872 to ship immigrants.

In England Brogdens were offering better terms than the New Zealand government, mainly in the sense that they paid most of the necessary costs themselves, relying on promissory notes from the immigrants, whereas the government wanted substantial payments in advance which were hard for a working man to find. For this reason the colony's Agent-General in London, Dr. Isaac Featherston directed staff to support the Brogden programme.

It was not easy to persuade men or families to leave their homeland. However the 1866 recession in copper-mining in Cornwall and bitter disputes between farmers and farm labourers assisted the recruiters. Charles Rooking Carter (1822–1896), a member of Featherston’s recruitment staff who interviewed nearly all the "Brogden navvies", had been a Chartist sympathiser and an active propagandist for improved working class conditions before emigrating to New Zealand in 1850 and the campaign worked closely with the unions. [Arnold] In 1872 the Company were given six rail contracts as follows: [ [ New Zealand Government Archives] ]

Auckland and Mercer

Wellington and Hutt

Napier and Paki Paki

Picton and Blenheim

Dunedin and Clutha

Invercargill and Mataura

for sections of railway totalling convert|159|mi|km at a cost of £808,000.

There were considerable difficulties in the operation of the contracts and the management of the men. Brogdens got less work than they had hoped and it became available more slowly than expected. Communications between UK and New Zealand were obviously slow so it was difficult to know how many men to send at any given time. Sometimes Brogdens could not find work for the men when they arrived. Men reneged on their promissory notes. There were disputes over working hours, wages and whether they should be paid when the weather stopped the work. Gradually the men drifted away. By August 1873, 1299 men had been brought out and only 287 were working for Brogdens. Most of the men were agricultural labourers, rather than true navvies and they found local agricultural labour and working conditions more attractive than navvy work.

Consequently work was slower than expected and in 1879 the Company was in dispute with the New Zealand Government over contract payments. Bankruptcy soon followed.

Although this was not a happy result for Brogdens, the results for New Zealand and the families themselves were good. New Zealand obtained useful citizens who were very happy with their work, wages, food and social conditions. Their letters home encouraged more people to come. Many of today’s New Zealanders have ancestors who were members of the families who emigrated at this time. [Higgins (1978) p245, Arnold (1981) chapter one, Leitch (1972), New Zealand Archives]

Other Work

Brogdens built part of the Northampton and Peterborough Railway, from Oundle to Peterborough. [Contract RAIL 384/196 dated 11 Jan 1844] They also doubled the line from Oundle to Peterborough (contracted 11 Dec 1845). [Minutes of the N&P Committee of the London and Birmingham Railway RAIL 384/105 ]

They built sluices and tidal gates at St Germans, Norfolk, one of the outlets of The Fens. [Richardson(1870) p 227]

In 1850 They joined Mr McClean in a lease of the South Staffordshire line which they held and worked for about six years. [Richardson(1870) p 227, RAIL 410/869 and 410/870] with Alexander Brogden as manager.Richardson (1881) pp 46/7] This line ran through Wednesbury and Alexander was elected as the first M.P. of that town in 1868. This suggests a long-standing relationship with the area.

In Holland Brogdens held the concession to construct about convert|50|mi|km of railway – the Tilberg and Nympeguen in North Brabant and Guelderland, which formed part of the Dutch South Eastern Railway Company (DSERC) and a new direct route from London to Berlin via Flushing (Vlissingen). There was some dispute with the DSERC but the nature of this dispute is not clear. [Higgins 1978]

A railway was promoted and constructed at Mont Cenis by the firm, together with Thomas Brassey, J B Fell, the Duke of Sutherland, Lord Abinger and others. [Gilpin(1988) and Richardson (1881), page47] This is presumably the earlier "Fell Railway" of 1868 and not the later 1871 railway that uses the tunnel.

Richardson (1881) page 46 also refers to an ironworks in Finland and copper mines in Russia.

The End of the Company

The partnership of Alexander, Henry and James Brogden, trading as Brogdens from 52 Queen Victoria Street in the City of London, was dissolved on 31 July 1880 by order of the Chancery Division of Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice with effect from 26th July. On 11 January 1884 the liquidations of Alexander and Henry were announced in the London Gazette. They had presented petitions for liquidation estimating their liabilities upwards of £500,000 with assets of £3,830 [Higgins(1978)] .

The Brogden properties in Tondu were purchased by North’s Navigation Collieries Company, formed in 1889 for this purpose. This company focussed entirely on coal and was profitable.

Notes and References


*cite journal | first = Michael | last = Andrews | title = The Origins of the Furness Railway 1
journal = Jour. Railway and Canal History Society | date = October 1965
pages =7–11 | year = 1965

*cite journal | first = Michael | last = Andrews | title = The Origins of the Furness Railway 2
journal = Jour. Railway and Canal History Society | date = January 1966
pages =1–7 | year = 1966

*cite book | first = Rollo | last = Arnold | title = The Farthest Promised Land | publisher = Victoria University Press | year = 1981 | url=

*cite book | first = DSM | last = Barrie | title = Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain XII South Wales | year = 1980

*cite journal | last = Brogden | first = James | title = Diary 1871-1873
journal = Welsh National Library | volume = Picton Papers | pages = Brogden 1 | year = 1873

*cite journal | last = Brunlees | first = James
title = On the Construction of the Sea Embankments, across the Estuaries Kent and Leven, In Morecambe Bay, for the Ulverstone and Lancaster Railway
journal = Proc. Inst. Civil Engrs. | volume = 14 | pages = 239–250 | year = 1855

*cite journal | last = Gooderson | first = P.J.
title = Railway Construction in Mid-nineteenth Century North Lancs., A Study based on the Diary of James Stelfox 1855-70
journal = Jour. Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

*cite journal | last = Higgins | first = L.S. | title = The Brogden Pioneers of the early industrial development in Mid-Glamorgan | journal = National Library of Wales Journal | volume = XX | issue = 3 | pages = 240–252 | date = Summer 1978 | year = 1978 | url= | quotes=no

*cite book | first = David | last = Leitch | title = Railways of New Zealand | year = 1972 | publisher = David and Charles

*Manchester and Birmingham Railway Directors’ Minutes: Public Record Office RAIL 454

*Manchester and Leeds Railway Directors’ Minutes: Public Record Office RAIL 343

*cite book | first = J.D. | last = Marshall | title = Furness and the Industrial Revolution | publisher = Michael Moon, Beckermet, Cumbria | year = 1958 reprinted 1981 | isbn = 0904131262

*cite book | first = J.D. | last = Marshall | title = The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway | publisher = David and Charles | year = 1970 | volume = 1 of 3 :Note: These two J D Marshalls are different people.

*cite book | first = Lawrence | last = Popplewell | title = A Gazetteer of the Railway Contractors and Engineers of Northern England 1830-1914 | publisher = UK: Bournemouth: Melledgen Press | year = 1985 | isbn = 0-906637-07-4

*cite book | first = Brinley | last = Richards | title = History of the Llynfi Valley | publisher = Cowbridge, S Glamorgan: D Brown & Sons Ltd. | year = 1982

*cite book | first = Joseph | last = Richardson | title = Furness Past and Present | volume = 1 of 2 | year = 1870

*cite book | first = Joseph | last = Richardson | title = Barrow in Furness, Its History, Development, Commerce, Industries and Institutions | year = 1881

*cite journal | first = R | last = Smiles | title = Memoir about John Brogden (senior) | journal = Richardson (1870) | pages = 223 | year = 1870 | quotes=no

*cite journal | last = Wells | first = G.J.
title = The Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway
journal = Railway Magazine
volume = 5 | pages = 331–338 | quotes=no

*cite book | first = Jeffrey| last = Wells | title = The Eleven Towns Railway – The Story of the Manchester and Leeds Main Line | publisher = Railway and Canal History Society | year = 2000 | isbn = 780901461216

Further reading

Citation | last = Gilpin | first = L.R. | title = John Brogden of Manchester | journal = Cumbrian Railways | volume = 3 | issue = 15 | date = February 1988 | year = 1980 []

Citation | last = Gilpin | first = L.R. | title = The Bustling Alexander | journal = Cumbrian Railways | volume = 4 | issue = 6 | date = October 1989 | year = 1989 []

External links

* [ New Zealand Government Archives]
* [ Information about people with Brogden surname]
* [ Railway and Canal History Society]

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